Tick Dragger

Worst Science Jobs II: Number 9

by Peter Stemmler

Physically excruciating, risk of disease, poorly compensated (see more)Peter Stemmler

Go to remote, densely overgrown forest. Take out giant white corduroy sheet. Drag it behind you as you sing loudly to ward off bears. After 20 meters, stop. Do not tarry to smack mosquitoes, for you must immediately tweezer
several hundred tiny, potentially Lyme diseasecarrying ticks that have covered both you and your white cloth, and drop them into a jar. Repeat 50 times a day.

No, this is not the instruction set for hell week at Phi Delta Sade. It's the protocol for a study assessing Lyme-disease risk across the eastern U.S., headed by Yale University epidemiologist Durland Fish. At any given time, Fish has dozens of students out "dragging for ticks"--and, incidentally, exposing themselves to these disease vectors. Although they protect themselves, they inevitably encounter far more of these vermin than the most careless of civilians--up to several thousand a day.

"It's a ridiculous job," says Kim Powers, who drags her cloth in North Carolina. The pay is marginally better than what she'd get for flipping burgers, but she endures the torment less for the money than as a downpayment on a career in epidemiology. "It's hot as hell, I'm dressed head to toe to keep out the ticks, and I'm walking through the woods dragging a big white cloth, singing." She's been bitten by her subjects at least once and has nearly fainted from heat exposure, but so far she's missed the bull's-eye: no Lyme disease . . . yet.